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2 Major Signs Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome You Shouldn't Ignore

2 Major Signs Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome You Shouldn't Ignore

You’ve probably heard the words “carpal tunnel syndrome” thrown around before, and maybe you have a vague idea of what the health condition entails. But carpal tunnel should be on everyone’s radar—especially because it’s more common than many people think. According to the American College of Rheumatology, the syndrome, which causes numbness and tingling in a person’s hands and arms, is the most common nerve disorder, affecting up to 10 million Americans.

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway on the palm side of your wrist that protects a main nerve to your hand, as well as the tendons that bend your fingers, the Mayo Clinic says. Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the tendons in your hand become inflamed, pinching the nerve inside the carpal tunnel, Steven Shin, M.D., director of hand surgery at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, tells SELF.

Symptoms typically include numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, middle, and lower half of the ring finger, Shin says. (Tingling and numbness in your pinky aren’t a symptom because it’s connected to a different nerve.) It may also become worse when you’re using your phone, typing, or brushing your teeth.

While you’ve probably heard that using your keyboard a lot or positioning your wrists a certain way while you type causes carpal tunnel, Chaitanya S. Mudgal, M.D., a hand and upper extremity orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF that’s an urban legend that hasn’t been proven by scientific studies. “The number of people who use a keyboard for eight hours a day and the number of people who develop carpal tunnel syndrome aren’t equal,” he says. “Plus, you may use your keyboard for eight hours, but your wrists rest for another 16 hours. Those dots don’t connect.”

However, experts have found that genetics can play a role in the development of carpal tunnel syndrome (some people have smaller carpal tunnels, which increases the risk of developing the condition), as can constantly being exposed to vibrations, like regularly riding a motorcycle or using a jackhammer.

Although carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in older people, young people can develop it, especially if they’re pregnant, Mugdal says. “There are many theories about why this happens, including weight gain and fluid retention that put the nerve under pressure,” he says. “However, most cases go away about six to eight weeks after delivery.”

Unfortunately, Tze C. Ip, M.D., a hand and wrist orthopedic surgeon with Hoag Orthopedic Institute, tells SELF that research hasn’t found any exercises or dietary changes that can help prevent the syndrome. However, doctors can treat the symptoms with a hand brace to keep your wrist in a straight position and over-the-counter pain relievers. And, if the symptoms are really bad, doctors may recommend cortisone shots for pain or even surgery to correct the issue if all other methods fail.

If you find that you’re having symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, see a doctor soon. “The longer you wait, the more likely you’ll get permanent changes in the nerve and may not get complete relief, even with surgery,” Shin says.